Hantavirus surveillance and prevention efforts underway on Navajo Nation

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — On Aug. 6, the Health, Education, and Human Services Committee received an update report from the Navajo Nation Department of Health’s Navajo Epidemiology Center and its partners regarding the Hantavirus surveillance and prevention efforts currently taking place throughout Navajo land.

According to the Navajo Epidemiology Center’s Executive Director Ramona Antone-Nez, the objectives of the Hantavirus Five-Point Screening Report is to strengthen partnerships, conduct blood screening and testing training for IHS laboratory employees, implement screening protocols, conduct clinical presentations to providers, and meet with the Navajo Nation Council to establish a best practices policy.

The first confirmed cases occurred during a Hantavirus outbreak in 1993 in the Four Corners area, which resulted in 32 deaths that were attributed to the spread of the virus through deer mice. The majority of the cases originated in the Eastern Navajo Agency, which continues to remain a problem area.

HEHSC member Steven Begay (Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi, Bahastl’a’a’) expressed concern for the higher rates of Hantavirus in the eastern area and questioned if the Navajo Area Indian Health Service and New Mexico Department of Health are involved with providing support, assistance and public education regarding the virus.

“I would like to know where Navajo IHS is on this collaboration in trying to address this local concern. It’s not a national concern, but it is a concern with high rates in our area. With that said, where is the NMDOH for the New Mexico side? It seems like the numbers indicate that there are higher cases coming from the Eastern Navajo Agency, where there is a lack of infrastructure,” Begay said.

He stated that it was important to keep federal agencies accountable for health care concerns and public education when it comes to public health and outbreaks.

The Hantavirus Five-Point Screening for laboratory technicians is a tool for triage of suspected Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome that was developed by the University of New Mexico, and has been implemented at two health care facilities on the Navajo Nation. The training for the screening is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Navajo Epidemiology Center.

HEHSC member Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown (Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, Kayenta) said that it was important for health care facilities to carry out blood testing and training for Hantavirus on the Navajo Nation, and recommended a directive for 638-program health facilities to require the testing and training for laboratory technicians.

Brown said he was concerned for the high rates of Hantavirus in the Eastern Navajo Agency and proposed a directive to have the trainings for screening of the disease be provided to all health care facilities on the Navajo Nation and to provide an update report in three months.

HEHSC members voted 3-0 to approve the report with one directive.

Information provided by the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker

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